Follow the honey

Comvita and Saving the Wild are battling to save wild land in Kenya. And bees are playing a very important role.

Famous for large herds of elephants and sweeping views of Mt Kilimanjaro, the Greater Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya is slowly starting to see the back of its worst drought since 2009.

In 2020, Comvita and the Saving the Wild charity initiated a beekeeping project, which was implemented on the ground by Big Life Foundation. Its primary goal was to secure wild land and the first honey harvest took place in February 2022.

Two hundred hives were strategically placed throughout the critical Kimana Wildlife Corridor, all Maasai-owned land, and profits from the honey sales went into an educational scholarship fund for their children, the future guardians who will be entrusted with keeping the land wild for the next generation.

Land critical to the survival of some of the planet’s most endangered species is being taken over by agriculture and this is leading to increased human-wildlife conflict, like the recent death of Tolstoy, an elephant with some of the biggest tusks on the planet, from a spear wound.

Saving the Wild WOMEN is the follow up to the inaugural beekeeping project and aims to empower local Maasai women. The project is once again supported by Comvita and seed funding was provided at the start of 2022 by bee advocate and the Godfather of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden, in collaboration with Seattle-based art gallery owner Kirsten Anderson.

Tolstoy, an elephant with some of the biggest tusks on the planet, a victim of the expansion of agriculture. Right, Witness Tiplit from the neighbouring Maasai community enters the beehouse for the first time.

Over the next four years, the plan is for young Maasai women to be trained by senior beekeepers and eventually take over complete management and ownership of the beehives. The harvests will then be sold to Big Life Foundation who will manage all processing and distribution in Kenya and bottle it under the Saving the Wild honey brand.

“After the rains failed this year, I immediately reached out to Comvita,” says Jamie Joseph, Director of Saving the Wild. “Comvita has always been a loyal partner we can count on when times get tough, and the first priority was no longer training the new recruits, but really just to keep the bees alive and survive the drought.”

Comvita’s head beekeeper, Carlos Zevallos, touched down in Kenya at the start of November. As he reached the camp where Saving the Wild is based, he had mixed emotions.

“It was my first time seeing elephants in the wild,” says Zevallos. “This was a deeply moving experience, but even to my untrained eye, it was obvious that these elephants with their bones jutting out were starving. Suddenly faced with such harsh conditions, I was anxious to inspect the hives to see if the bees were surviving the drought.”

Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s wildflowering plant species depend on animal pollination, and Comvita and Saving the Wild believe the key to protecting biodiversity is protecting the planet’s bee population.

“I was very impressed by the resilience of African bees,” says Zevallos. “While there was much work to do, the bees were coping, and by the time I left ten days later I felt confident that if the rains fell, the February harvest would go ahead.”

“Bees are sacred in Maasai culture,” says Joseph. “By empowering local people to be guardians of the land, they are also contributing to a healthier, more robust ecosystem. I hope that through our bee projects we can inspire many within the Maasai community, and even rural communities further abroad, to take up beekeeping and thus work in harmony with nature.”

Right across Africa, the looming threat to these last great wild places is habitat loss. There will be no animals to save if they have nowhere to live.

All eyes are now on the sky, and the first showers of rain are starting to fall.

To find out more about the work Comvita and Saving the Wild are doing together, visit:

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